Ex Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez charged with bribery

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Former Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez was arrested Thursday on bribery costs linked to the financing of her 2020 marketing campaign, the newest hit to an island with a protracted historical past of corruption that introduced contemporary political upheaval to the U.S. territory.

Vázquez is accused of partaking in a bribery scheme from December 2019 by way of June 2020 — whereas she was governor — with a number of individuals, together with a Venezuelan-Italian financial institution proprietor, a former FBI agent, a financial institution president and a political advisor.

“I am innocent. I have not committed any crime,” she advised reporters. ”I guarantee you that they’ve dedicated an important injustice in opposition to me.”

The arrest embarrassed and angered many in Puerto Rico who imagine the island’s already shaky picture has been additional tarnished, leaving a rising quantity of people that have misplaced religion of their native officers to wonder if federal authorities are their solely hope to root out entrenched authorities corruption. Concern over earlier corruption circumstances led to a delay in federal assist for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria because the U.S. authorities applied extra safeguards.

Thursday’s arrest additionally was a blow to Vázquez’s pro-statehood New Progressive Celebration, which is pushing to carry a referendum subsequent yr in a bid to turn out to be the 51st U.S. state.

Vázquez, 62, was the second girl to function Puerto Rico’s governor and the primary former governor to face federal costs. Former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá of the opposing Widespread Democratic Celebration was charged with marketing campaign finance violations whereas in workplace and was discovered not responsible in 2009. He had been the primary Puerto Rico governor to be charged with against the law in current historical past.

“For the second time in our history, political power and public office are used to finance an electoral campaign,” mentioned José Luis Dalmau, president of Acevedo’s get together. “Using the power of the government to advance political agendas is unacceptable and an affront to democracy in Puerto Rico.”

Vázquez’s advisor, recognized as John Blakeman, and the financial institution president, recognized as Frances Díaz, have pleaded responsible to collaborating within the bribery scheme, in keeping with the U.S. Division of Justice.

In early 2019, the worldwide financial institution owned by Julio Martín Herrera Velutini was being scrutinized by Puerto Rico’s Workplace of the Commissioner of Monetary Establishments due to transactions authorities believed had been suspicious and had not been reported by the financial institution.

Authorities mentioned Herrera and Mark Rossini, the previous FBI agent who supplied consulting companies to Herrera, allegedly promised to financially help Vázquez’s 2020 marketing campaign for governor in change for Vázquez dismissing the commissioner and appointing a brand new one among Herrera’s selecting.

Authorities mentioned Vázquez accepted the bribery provide and in February 2020 demanded the commissioner’s resignation. She then was accused of appointing a former advisor for Herrera’s financial institution as the brand new commissioner in Could 2020. After the transfer, officers mentioned Herrera and Rossini paid greater than $300,000 to political consultants to help Vázquez’s marketing campaign.

A flurry of messages exchanged throughout that point between individuals concerned within the case included a coronary heart emoji hooked up to the commissioner’s resignation letter and three sealed lips emojis when somebody supplied Rossi’s identify to Vázquez, who requested the identify of “the guy from the FBI.” As well as, Herrera texted Rossini concerning the want for a marketing campaign supervisor and mentioned he didn’t need “a monkey from Puerto Rico.”

After Vázquez misplaced the first to present Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, authorities mentioned Herrera then allegedly sought to bribe Pierluisi to finish an audit into his financial institution with favorable phrases. Herrera is accused of utilizing intermediaries from April 2021 to August 2021 to supply a bribe to Pierluisi’s consultant, who was really appearing beneath FBI orders, in keeping with the indictment.

Officers mentioned Herrera then ordered a $25,000 cost to a political motion committee in hopes of making an attempt to bribe Pierluisi.

Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Legal professional for Puerto Rico, mentioned Pierluisi shouldn’t be concerned within the case.

Vázquez, Herrera and Rossini are every charged with conspiracy, federal packages bribery and sincere companies wire fraud. If they’re discovered responsible on all counts, they may withstand 20 years in jail, officers mentioned.

In the meantime, Díaz and Blakeman might withstand 5 years in jail, officers mentioned.

Muldrow mentioned officers imagine Herrera is in the UK and Rossini in Spain. It wasn’t clear if the U.S. would search to extradite them.

Rossini resigned from the FBI in November 2008 as a part of a plea deal wherein he pleaded responsible to criminally accessing a delicate FBI database for private functions. Lots of the searches had been associated to Anthony Pellicano, an notorious non-public eye for celebrities who was charged in 2006 with wiretapping sure stars and bribing a police officer.

Attorneys for the opposite suspects charged within the case couldn’t be instantly reached for remark.

In mid-Could, Vázquez’s legal professional advised reporters that he and his consumer had been making ready for potential costs as the previous governor on the time denied any wrongdoing.

Vázquez was sworn in as governor in August 2019 after former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló stepped down following large protests. She served till 2021, after dropping the primaries of the pro-statehood New Progressive Celebration to Pierluisi.

In an announcement Thursday, Pierluisi mentioned his administration will work with federal authorities to assist battle corruption.

“No one is above the law in Puerto Rico,” he mentioned. “Faced with this news that certainly affects and lacerates the confidence of our people, I reiterate that in my administration, we will continue to have a common front with federal authorities against anyone who commits an improper act, no matter where it comes from or who it may implicate.”

Vázquez beforehand served because the island’s justice secretary and a district legal professional for greater than 30 years.

She turned governor after Puerto Rico’s Supreme Courtroom dominated that the swearing in of Pierluisi — who had solely been nominated as secretary of state — as governor was unconstitutional. Vázquez on the time mentioned she was not occupied with working for workplace and would solely end the practically two years left in Rosselló’s time period.

Rosselló had resigned in late July 2019 after tens of hundreds of Puerto Ricans took to the road, indignant over corruption, mismanagement of public funds and an obscenity-laced chat wherein he and 11 different males together with public officers made enjoyable of ladies, homosexual individuals and victims of Hurricane Maria, amongst others.

Shortly after she was sworn in, Vázquez advised the AP that her priorities had been to battle corruption, safe federal hurricane restoration funds and assist elevate Puerto Rico out of a deep financial disaster as the federal government struggled to emerge from chapter.

Throughout the interview, she advised the AP that she had lengthy wished to be in public service: as a woman, she would stand on her balcony and maintain imaginary trials, all the time discovering the supposed defendants responsible.

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